Sim Lim Square shop pays $1,010 refund in coins

She went to the mobile phone shop in Sim Lim Square to get a refund.

After all, the Small Claims Tribunal had ruled in her favour. The shop gave her the money.

The only problem was that all $1,010 of it was in coins. The consumer, who wanted to be known only as Miss Zhou, said the shop's action angered and shocked her.

She also claimed that the shop employees verbally abused and taunted her after forcing her to count the money on the floor. Some even took pictures and videos of her with the coins.

She said her ordeal on Tuesday afternoon lasted about three hours.

Such a payment is not illegal, but she could have refused to accept the payment in coins, said a lawyer.

In the end, she ended up with about $550 in coins after the shop owner agreed to pay her the rest in notes when reporters turned up at the shop.

Miss Zhou told The New Paper in Mandarin yesterday: "Now I have 18kg of coins in a bag sitting on my sofa. I went to a bank, but its staff were not willing to change the coins to notes for me."

The Chinese national in her 20s had arrived here in Singapore last month to study. She said in a phone interview that she had gone to the shop, Mobile Air, in Sim Lim Square last month.

She bought an iPhone 6 Plus for $1,600. Checks show that a top-of-the-line 128GB iPhone 6 Plus at the online Apple shop costs $1,448.

But after Miss Zhou signed the "contract", she said the staff told her that she needed to fork out an additional $2,400 for a two-year insurance policy for the phone. "They did not tell me there was such a clause in the contract before I signed it," she said.

"But as I had signed the contract, I could not leave with the phone without paying the extra cost. They would not return the $1,600 that I had paid."

After much haggling, the staff agreed to give her a $1,000 discount, she said. Miss Zhou reluctantly paid the $3,000 and left.


The next day, she filed a complaint with the Small Claims Tribunal, which eventually ruled that the shop refund her $1,010.

Miss Zhou said that when she went to the shop five times over the last month, the staff would not refund her money.

"They gave all sorts of excuses. They told me they would only pay on Oct 17, or that their boss was not around. "I had to fly back to China on Oct 1. While I was away, my aunt went there on my behalf on two occasions, but they said I would have to turn up in person."

She returned to Singapore last Thursday, and on Tuesday, she went to the shop with her aunt to collect her refund. That was when she was presented with the huge bag of coins.

The coins were in all denominations, including five cents, she said.

Miss Zhou claimed the shop assistants threw the bag on the floor and told her to count the coins there.

They taunted her and made fun of her as she did so, she said.

"It was humiliating. There were five guys. I was scared and didn't know what to do. So I called the police," she said.

Police officers arrived as Miss Zhou was picking up the coins. As the officers stood by, the shop assistants allowed her to count the money on the counter.

She said it took her almost three hours to count about $550 worth of coins. A police spokesman said they received a call for assistance at about 2.25pm on Tuesday.

A dispute had broken out, but no further police assistance was required, he added.

Said Miss Zhou: "It was only when reporters arrived at the scene that the shop owner got worried. "He told me if I got rid of the reporters, he would return the rest of the money, including the five-cent coins, in notes."

A shop assistant who declined to be named told Shin Min Daily News that the staff had informed Miss Zhou to collect her refund on Oct 17.

But she did not turn up that day, so his boss changed the money to coins and kept them in the shop.


He also claimed that Miss Zhou's aunt had grabbed the bag. When she was at the shop entrance, she threw the bag on the floor. He claimed the two women had poor attitudes and had said that "spare change is rubbish".

When TNP visited the shop yesterday, the shop assistants declined to comment.

Miss Zhou, who lives at a condominium in River Valley with her aunt, denied the shop assistant's version of events. "My aunt and I said they (the staff) were rubbish. Why would we say money is rubbish?

"I had no idea the shop would cause so much trouble. Whatever the case, I'm never going back there again," she said.


Inconvenient, but not illegal.

By paying the $1,010 refund in coins, it seems that the shop staff may have breached the Monetary Authority of Singapore's Currency Act.

Under the Act, any sum can be paid in $1 coins.

But payments of more than $10 in 50-cent coins can be refused. Miss Zhou could also have refused coins in smaller denominations than 50 cents for any payment above $2.

But as Miss Zhou was not shortchanged and she took about $550 in coins home, it would indicate that she had accepted the payment, said criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam.

"It was inconvenient for her, but given that she accepted the payment, it would not have been illegal," he said. This was echoed by Consumers Association of Singapore's (Case) executive director Seah Seng Choon.

"If the consumer had rejected the coins and given written notice to the retailer that she would not accept the payment, the retailer will still owe the consumer the (original) amount," he said.

He added that it would be an offence only if the retailer had impaired, diminished, lightened or defaced the coins. Mr Seah said 17 complaints had been lodged against the shop, Mobile Air, this year.

Notices pasted around Sim Lim Square highlight that Mobile Air received the highest number of complaints - 14 in total - filed with Case among all shops between July and September this year.

On what to do in such a situation, Mr Seah said: "The consumer has the right to decide whether to accept or reject payment in coins in accordance to the Currency Act."

This article was first published on October 30, 2014.
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